Defining Fjords

Freaky Fjords in New Zealand

It was time to celebrate the coming of a new year.
It would be interesting, several friends and I decided, to summer in NZ. Yes, being down under, December is actually Summer and June is Winter. So, happily, we packed our shorts and t-shirts to explore the great wilderness of NZ, particularly the fjords (or fiords as the Kiwis spell it) and to bask in the glory of God’s workmanship.

Unfortunately, we never got to wear those shorts. As for the t-shirts, they were tucked neatly underneath several other layers of shirts and jackets.

It was the coldest summer we had ever experienced. Was it perhaps actually winter? Was the winter/summer reversal downunder a myth just like toilets flushing counterclockwise? Our minds went numb as the sun finally set (at 10PM) and the rain fell harder.

“Is this what summer is like?” we finally had to ask some locals. “Oh no,” each Kiwi remarkably replied in the same way, “you’re lucky.” For a minute, we had to check the Kiwi dictionary to find out if “lucky” downunder meant “unfortunate”. But no, they really meant we were experiencing good fortune that the summer brought single digit weather and lots and lots of rain.

It was hard to argue.
How do you argue that?
Moreover, how do you argue at all when windchills keep you in a hunched over position and you’re concentrating on keeping your teeth from chattering as the blistering cold eats into your bones.

So as one planned outdoor activity after another failed to materialize due to the rain, or the wind, we were comforted by the wise words from the Kiwis, “boy, are we lucky!”

One activity did push through though – since it involved no need whatsoever to place any part of our bodies on soil or exposed to wind, we went on a cruise to see DOUBTFUL SOUND, one of the most beautiful, dramatic and serene fjords in the world. According to the locals, it was named Doubtful Sound because Captain Cook (James, not the Peter Pan character) was “doubtful” that the harbour he found would give his ship safety. In fact it was not a harbour, but a deep fjord. Our guide then told us that calling it a “Sound” is a misnomer because a sound is supposed to have been created by rivers while a fjord by glaciers, which really, in my opinion, just adds more meaning to the name, “Doubtful Sound”. At any rate, we didn’t realize that the cruise would actually take up 8 hours because first we had to take a boat across a lake, a bus over a mountain pass and then a larger boat through the sound.

It was raining for the most part of the journey.
Again, we were told we were lucky because that meant so many more waterfalls could be seen, not just the “permanent” ones. We needed no convincing. The place was breath-taking. It was literally hard to breathe as the cold wind filled our lungs and large rain drops pelted at us. It was the first time we felt our lungs literally burn from the cold the way freezing dry-ice burns your skin.

But we paid no mind because we were lucky.

Days after we finished our journey into Doubtful Sound, 200 other tourists who had braved the same attempt found themselves trapped as the winds blew and the rain fell at an astonishing 35mm/hour. It wiped out Wilmot’s Pass (the bus route) and they had to be airlifted out of the Sound back onto the mainland.

We felt a bit cheated when we heard that piece of news.
In fact, they were the really lucky ones!